Emotional relationships with spirit-guides in early modern Scotland
in The supernatural in early modern Scotland
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In early modern Scotland, there is a good deal of evidence for visionaries who experienced relationships with spirits. The evidence comes mostly from witchcraft trials. However, although the interrogators assumed that they were dealing with a witch who had met the Devil, it is clear that this is not how the visionaries themselves had experienced their relationship before their arrest.

These visionaries were ordinary people who had extraordinary experiences and who often gained special powers as a result. Most of the visionaries, though not all, were women. Most of the spirits were fairies or ghosts. Several visionaries had a ghost as a main spirit-guide, but the ghost associated with fairies and introduced the visionary to fairyland. The chapter reconstructs one visionary’s relationship in detail: that of Alison Pearson with the ghost William Simpson who accompanied her to fairyland but also protected her from the fairies’ capricious violence. The relationship between visionary and spirit-guide was unequal, expressed as ‘friendship’, but constructed like the relationship between client and patron.

The visionaries experienced various emotions of their own, notably fear. Although spirit-guides could be helpful, they were also powerful, demanding and oppressive. Because the visionaries’ relationship with them was two-way, they also attributed emotions to their spirit-guides, notably sympathy (the spirit-guide often wanted to look after the visionary) but also anger. The conclusion discusses psychological and cultural dimensions of these imagined and fantasised relationships. The emotions of other-worldly beings are a deeply human subject.

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